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Environment and health

The link between the health of the environment and human health is indisputable and long-standing. While the environment, as a key determinant of health, is a current public concern it has been on CMA’s radar and of concern to physicians for some time.

The global picture

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 24 per cent of the global burden of disease is due to modifiable factors in air, water, soil and food, and that 13 per cent of Canada’s disease burden is preventable through healthier environments.

CMA position

The CMA believes physicians have a critical role to play in advancing public understanding of the impact of the environment on health and promoting health protecting responses.

In a joint position statement with other national health care organizations, CMA has asked all health care organizations to pledge to minimize the negative impact of their activity on the environment, and to seek solutions to existing barriers. We also recommend that individuals working in the health sector both model and advocate for environmentally responsible approaches to delivering health care without compromising patient safety and care.

Physicians see the impact of environmental illness in their practices and communities. The medical profession is concerned about environmental conditions that contribute to declining health in individuals and the population as a whole.

Physicians also recognize that they have a role to play to ensure that Canada’s health sector is environmentally responsible.

Illness and the environment

Often it is the most vulnerable – children, the elderly, those with underlying chronic disease and those living in poverty – who are most affected by the natural and built environments we live in.

CMA has developed policies that address the impacts of climate change and chemical contamination on human health. CMA’s 2008 work on the illness costs of air pollution predicted the cost to Canada and individual provinces of air pollutants in terms of health outcomes and health expenditures.

A growing body of evidence suggests the built environment also plays a significant role in our health and well-being. The built environment is:

  • buildings, neighborhoods
  • infrastructure like energy networks, sewer systems
  • homes
  • schools
  • workplaces
  • parks
  • business areas
  • roads

The CMA’s policies on the built environment and health and on active transportation encourage governments, health professionals and urban planners to work together to ensure that health impact assessments are incorporated into all planning and development initiatives in the public sector.

Environment and health